Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Constitutional Corners

By Shawn Healy
I knew that the Chicago Tribune was officially in trouble when I came across full page ads in both Monday's and Wednesday's papers questioning the citizenship of President-elect Barack Obama and his ability to serve as president. They were sponsored by the We the People Foundation for Constitutional Education, and the paper proceeded to debunk these claims in an article also published on Wednesday.

Traditionally, newspapers have maintained that there exists a firm separation between the editorial and business side of their operations, but in this environment where the economic model of modern journalism is threatened, this firewall has been undeniably penetrated. Indeed, Fitch Ratings predicts that many communities will do without newspapers as early as next year as advertising revenues dip and print readership continues its long-term slide.

Is there any substance to the claim published in the aforementioned ad? Two Tribune reporters seemingly debunked the charges point-for-point, yet a flurry of lawsuits considering the issue of Obama's qualifications for office.

Article 2, Section 1, Clause 5 of the United States Constitution reads as follows: "No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years, and been fourteen Years a resident within the United States."

The suits (and the ad) take issue with the fact that Obama is a natural-born citizen, and none other than the U.S. Supreme Court will decide on Friday whether or not to consider an appeal. It takes the votes of four the nine justices to grant any appeal a hearing before the body, and such a controversy would certainly attract the attention of the country like no case since the 2000 ruling that declared the presidential election over, Bush v. Gore. At issue this time around is whether the plaintiff has the requisite standing as a mere citizen to bring such charges as one of 300 million.

The legal front is never a lonely one, and the incoming Obama Administration may be preoccupied with yet another constitutional challenge, this one centering on Senator Hillary Clinton's fitness to serve as Secretary of State. A conservative legal group, Judicial Watch, charges that Clinton's nomination violates Article 1, Section 6, Clause 2 of the Constitution, that reads as follows: "No Senator or Representative shall, during the time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil office under the authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the emoluments whereof shall have been increased during such time."

Because Clinton voted in favor of a pay increase for the position she is set to assume while serving as a sitting senator, Judicial Watch alleges, she is ineligible to stand as the next Secretary of State until her current term in the Senate ends in 2013. The Obama Administration is said to be aware of these complications, and may either encourage Congress to reduce her compensation to the prior level or ask that she refuse the pay increase on a personal level. In the end, this is probably once more much ado about nothing, and she may be able to receive the full compensation she voted in favor of seven years ago.

More than anything, these charges, no matter how remotely accurate, raise the issue of the supremacy and utility of our Constitution. That we hold our office holders in 2009 to the standards established in 1787 is a testament to the longevity and continuity of the oldest written constitution in the world.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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